Solar power in Australia outstrips coal-fired electricity for first time | Energy
The national electricity market reached a new milestone on Sunday: For the first time since the market was founded two decades ago, solar energy surpassed energy generation from coal.
The transition point lasted only a few minutes as the low demand and sunny skies on Sunday caused the contribution of coal to drop to a record low of 9,315 MW shortly after noon, while solar provided the dominant share at 9,427 MW.
Dylan McConnell, a research fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Climate and Energy College, said renewable energy briefly accounted for 57% of national electricity generation.
“I unofficially call that ‘record season,'” said McConnell. “It’s actually pretty early in the season [to get these numbers] but in spring or in the mid-season you have the combination of low demand because there is no heating or cooling, and then nice weather on the weekend.
“These factors come together and you get these huge amounts of renewable energy that are generally supplanting coal.”
While McConnell said it was only “fleeting” and “Australia is a long way from excelling in renewable energy,” energy prices also went negative on Sunday from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm.
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Although the exact price varied by jurisdiction, it means that producers were paid to consume or that energy producers paid to keep going.
In contrast to the more nimble solar and wind producers, coal generators are particularly affected when prices turn negative. The cost of shutting down and restarting coal generators is prohibitive, which means that operators choose to keep running even if they are lost.
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According to data logger NEMlog, South Australia was 100% covered by wind and solar energy, while Victoria would have covered 102% of the state’s needs if operators had not been forced to shut down during the period of negative prices.
Energy analyst Simon Holmes à Court said the total share of renewables – solar, wind and water – would have been higher in the energy mix, but wind producers decided to shut down operations to avoid the drop in prices.
“There was one major limitation,” he said. “It shows that there are already more renewable energies that could have been connected to the grid if the coal-fired power plants were more flexible and the transmission was modernized.”
The development coincides with demands of the Clean Energy Investor Group (CEIG) – an 18-member body that advocates for investors in large renewable energy projects – for financial reforms to “adapt Australia to international markets” and “open up” new investments .
Modeling done for the group by Rennie Partners found that Australia would need 51 GW of renewable energy by 2042 if it is to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement, but only 3 GW of new wind and solar projects have been committed, so one Deficit of 48 GW remains.
Simon Corbell, CEO of CEIG, said governments and regulators should align Australian investment policies with global markets.
“Clean energy investors are currently facing significant risks in the NEM, which is holding back the capital they need,” said Corbell.
“To get an investment pipeline worth 70 billion